Mike Hudson, lead vocalist of seminal Cleveland punk band The Pagans, died Friday night in his home in Los Angeles at the age of 61.
The four singles The Pagans released during their initial 1977 to 1979 existence, with songs such as “Dead End America,” “Street Where Nobody Lives,” and “What’s This Shit Called Love?”, are rightfully seen as classics, both ahead of and beyond time — a scorched-earth music of shambolic delirium, with Hudson’s snot-snarled lyrics revealing a provocative intelligence that served him well in his work outside music as a respected journalist and author.
Like the band he fronted, Hudson was very much a product of a 1970s Cleveland, the first major American city to go into default since the Great Depression, where the Cuyahoga River was on fire, mafia shootings and bombings were epidemic, and the cellar-dwelling Indians provoked a stadium-wide bar fight of epic proportions with their disastrous “10 cent beer night” promotion.
It was also a time when an astonishing number of influential — if mostly overlooked and obscure while active — bands emerged out of Cleveland. Besides The Pagans, there bands such as Dead Boys, Pere Ubu, Electric Eels, Rocket From the Tombs, Mirrors, Styrenes. Bands who were, on the whole, artistic without being “arty”; bands who were well-read and hip to underground music and writers without exhibiting the kind of ostentatious pretension so loathed by middle Americans throughout the heartland.
Hudson was very much a product of this. His band was named after a poem by fellow Clevelander Hart Crane, and he considered Mike Royko, the legendary Chicago newspaper columnist, to be among the country’s greatest writers. Hudson's own writing would later appear in, among other places, Rolling Stone, The New York Post and Hustler.
“[The Pagans] were all widely read … basically blue collar guys,” Hudson told me during an interview in 2011. “I knew guys driving forklifts who wrote better poetry than David Byrne.”
Like so many musical pioneers who walked that line between creation and destruction, Hudson's was not an easy or safe life. He struggled with drug and alcohol addiction for decades. His brother Brian, drummer and Pagans co-founder, died in 1991. His son Ritchie died in 2004.
In an infamous appearance that now seems in some ways hilarious, The Pagans reunited to play the Horizontal Action Blackout, a punk and garage-rock festival, in 2005 in Chicago. In something of a “rock & roll swindle,” Hudson, an avid baseball fan, saw the opportunity as a chance to catch an interleague “crosstown classic” of the Cubs versus the White Sox as much as it was an occasion to play the old songs. Day baseball and day drinking go hand-in-hand, and by the time The Pagans played their headlining gig around midnight, they weren’t exactly a fine-tuned, well-oiled, professional showbiz entertainment outfit. I witnessed the debacle firsthand, and unlike so many reunion shows on 15-foot high stages adorned with the logos of corporate sponsors, it sure wasn’t fucking boring.
Since moving to L.A. in 2011, Hudson continued to make The Pagans a central interest in his life. His memoir, Diary of a Punk, released shortly before the move, is practically a declaration of victory over a now-dead music industry that ignored The Pagans. While still working as a journalist — even writing six articles just last week before his death — Hudson kept The Pagans going as their only original member, playing shows in L.A. and Long Beach, and a welcome-home show in Cleveland last year.
His time in L.A. seemed to provide no shortage of inspiration, as he continued to produce such works as the 2014 novel Fame Whore and an album that same year, credited to Mike Hudson & The Pagans, called Hollywood High. The last song recorded under The Pagans name was called “Hollywood or Die.”
All told, Mike Hudson released three dozen records since the 1970s, published six books, ran the indie label Terminal Records, founded the newspaper The Niagara Falls Reporter, wrote countless muckraking articles, and was a raconteur of the highest order.
We should all be that productive in this too-short life. Rest in peace, Mike.